Responding to tragedy

“I wasn’t lucky to be a part of the 9/11 response, I was honored,” is the first thing that Lori Gerber says to a small crowd of students and faculty gathered in the UC Grandroom on Sept. 8 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America.

The atmosphere is intimate yet intense and Gerber tells the crowd that it is okay to get emotional, because she herself still does after 10 years.

Gerber, a former law enforcement agent of 25 years, was called on Sept. 12, 2001 by the National Organization for Victim Assistance and was asked to assist in helping victims of 9/11.

Gerber had many question before leaving for New York. She was worried about her family and her own safety. After agreeing to go to New York, Gerber still had to go through the FBI, Homeland Security, and Washington, D.C., to receive the proper credentials. Gerber was on her way to helping those in need.

“The plane ride was weird. There were only 10 of us. 10. Everybody was afraid of flying but not us. The only people on that plane were my crew,” says Gerber.

Gerber worked tirelessly for 80 hours in one week consoling those who had lost loved ones, eventually going to ground zero.

“I remember the smoke,” says Gerber, “I remember the dust that I felt between my fingers, but most of all I remember the look that people had on their faces. It’s a look of being scared, but confused and worried at the same time.”

Gerber talked about the people she saw: widows who didn’t know what they would do without their husbands; children that would cry over the memories of their parents and friends worrying about their loved ones.

But despite the boards where people would cry over their lost family members and friends, the destruction that was right across the Hudson River and the emotional toll that happening to Gerber’s mind, Gerber recalls that the friendships she has made and the lasting impression they have had on her life.

“I have a bond with people that nobody could ever take away, a friendship that nobody will ever understand. On 9/11, my crew and myself, the ten of us, get on a conference call no matter where we are and talk about what happened,” said Gerber.

Gerber now lives in Asheville where she formed her own nonprofit organization called Center for New Beginnings where she specializes in helping people through crisis.

In moving forward, Gerber stays optimistic. “It will never go away, and we will never forget, but we will move forward. As Americans we come together when something happens and you will do anything to help other people. We step up to the plate.”